Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant
The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.
OPEN LEAGUE CUP DOWN TO FINAL FOUR
The midweek BetFred Cup encounters took place on Tuesday and Wednesday and produced some early Christmas crackers!
Tuesday saw Hibernian travelling to the Indodrill Stadium to take on Peter Grant’s Alloa Athletic. They fell behind to an own goal but a double from Christian Doidge (pictured) ensured that Jack Ross’ side dodged a dangerous bullet to advance through to the semi finals. In the other quarter final, St Johnstone and Dunfermline Athletic went all the way to extra time and a penalty shoot-out before the Perth side squeezed through.
Wednesday’s game at the Tony Macaroni Stadium saw yet another win for Livingston under David Martindale as they saw off Ross County at 2-0 but it was events in Paisley which took centre stage.
It looked like Rangers, who have been ruthless so far this season, were going to have just another day at the office when Connor Goldson had given Steven Gerrard’s side the lead with a fine finish but a late first half penalty from in-form Jamie McGrath set up an extraordinary second period for Jim Goodwin’s team.
McGrath (pictured) superbly notched his second of the game with a fine finish after great work by Jon Obika and St Mirren looked on course for the semi finals until Steven Davis netted an equaliser with less than five minutes remaining.
Goodwin’s men were not to be denied however and Connor McCarthy netted a stoppage time winner for the Buddies to send the odds-on favourites crashing out at the quarter final stage and leave the League Cup very much anyone’s for the winning.
The semi finals have set up St Johnstone against Hibernian and Livingston and St Mirren with one another (pictured).
People have been asking me who I fancy winning it. For me, the biggest pressure is now on Jack Ross to deliver silverware for Hibernian. On current form and where they are in the Scottish Premiership table, the Leith team have to now be the team to beat. However, on their day, any one of the other three sides could win it. Livingston and St Mirren are on a purple patch at present and St Johnstone on their day have players who can do damage.
Whatever happens, the fact we now have a semi final quartet that does not contain Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts for the first time since 2007 is a refreshing positive for Scottish Football.
A SENSATIONAL WEEK FOR BUDDIES
Saturday’s 3-2 victory over St Johnstone completed a truly sensational week for St Mirren Football Club (pictured).
The Buddies looked to be heading for defeat after falling behind twice to goals from Stevie May (pictured) from the penalty spot and Scott Tanser either side of a Ethan Erhahon goal. However, after Jason Kerr was sent off just before half time for Callum Davidson’s team, St Mirren battled hard and late goals from the magnificent Lee Erwin and Jon Obika got the job done for the Paisley side.
It is also worth mentioning the important introduction of substitute Kyle McCalister whose two second half assists turned the game around for the Buddies.
It really is a superb transformation from St Mirren who have picked up eleven points from their past fifteen available in the Premiership – only Rangers have a better run than that at the moment. They haven’t allowed the penalty of having to forfeit two matches 3-0 against Hamilton and Motherwell for COVID-19 breaches affect them either.
Callum Davidson’s side will be ruing the sending off of Jason Kerr at the end of the first half as their chances of an away win in Paisley went down the pan. The Perth Saints looked to be the better team in the first half and deservedly put themselves in front twice with those two goals. However, Kerr’s indiscipline cost them dearly and in truth they never recovered.
It’s been a strange few weeks for St Johnstone. The Perth team have not won any of their last five matches domestically and have only picked up three points in that run. They also face Rangers next which will be a very tough match indeed. However, after their superb win against a decent Dunfermline team in midweek, at least there is a cup semi final for them to look forward to.
They do need to start picking up points again in the league though especially as teams in and around the bottom of the league are picking up crucial points. This festive period is massive for the Perth Saints.
A LANG TIME COMING BUT RANGERS RECOVER WITH ITTEN ROOFE COMBO
After 72 minutes at Ibrox, it looked like it was going to be another damaging result to add to what has been a disappointing week for Rangers following their exit from the League Cup in midweek.
Callum Lang’s surprising opening goal for Motherwell (the first domestic goal Rangers have conceded at home this season) must have left many Rangers fans feeling a worrying sense of deja vu from their problems which started towards the end of the last two seasons. However, the combination of the in-form Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten (pictured) turned things around for Steven Gerrard’s team as they increased their lead at the top of the Premiership to sixteen points ahead of their bitter rivals Celtic.
Yes, the Scottish Premiership champions have three games in hand on Rangers and face them in the Old Firm derby at Ibrox at the start of January but you would rather have points on the board than games in hand at this stage of the campaign.
The Steelmen battled valiantly in Govan but pressure eventually told on Stephen Robinson’s (pictured) side and they could not hold on. As well as Motherwell defended after taking that early lead at Ibrox, it was always going to be a tough ask for Robinson’s men to see the game out against a side who are going to get opportunities. I think the Motherwell manager will be disappointed at the level of goals they gave away as well.
Despite being awarded six points for COVID-19 breaches by other clubs, Motherwell have actually lost four of their last five games and need to get back on the bike quickly. The Fir Park side are only four points above second from bottom Hamilton Accies in what is such a congested part of the table.
A good or bad run in the festive period will for me shape their season.
DINGWALL DELIGHT FOR ACCIES IS FINAL STRAW FOR KETTLEWELL
Saturday’s 2-0 away win in Dingwall for Hamilton Academical may prove to be one of the biggest wins of the season for Brian Rice.
I was on Go Radio (pictured) a few weeks ago and highlighted to the team that whoever lost this game was in massive trouble and whoever won it would get a massive lift.
I’ve got to say Hamilton have shown some massive character recently. They are not scared in games and always give it a go. Sometimes it doesn’t work for them and sometimes it does but one thing for sure is that Rice’s group of players are continuously developing and evolving as a group.
Ross Callachan and Scott Martin notched the crucial goals for Hamilton but it was a magnificent team performance from Rice’s side (pictured) who dug in well and limited County to very few clear cut opportunities. It is now seven points taken from a possible twelve for Accies and they are definitely breathing new life into their charge to steer clear of danger at the bottom of the Premiership.
After that defeat, Ross County dropped further adrift at the foot of the table. This spelled the end of the line for manager Stuart Kettlewell who was sadly relieved of his duties. I admired Kettlewell for speaking to the media moments after he was sacked as manager. That must be one of the toughest things to do but credit to him for his classy response to questions.
His team have not helped him in recent weeks with no wins since mid September and have simply not scored enough goals. The Staggies are now the lowest scorers in the division and are still conceding far too many at the other end. Only Hamilton have conceded more goals than County but crucially have four more points than them at this stage.
Whoever comes in for Kettlewell now has a massive job to do to turn things around, particularly sorting out their defence. Tommy Wright (pictured), Derek Adams and John Hughes are all being touted to take over but we shall see what happens in the coming weeks.
Whatever the decision, Roy MacGregor – the County chairman – and his board have a huge decision to make as the Staggies bid to save their season.
BOLTON FROM THE BLUE AS TERRORS EARN VITAL EASTER ROAD POINT
Hibernian must be kicking themselves after conceding that late equaliser against Dundee United on Saturday evening.
Jack Ross’ side completely dominated proceedings at Easter Road but failed to add to the opening goal of the game scored by Kyle Magennis in the first half. The Leith team passed up chance after chance as they were frustrated by United keeper Benjamin Siegrist and paid the price as midfielder Luke Bolton (pictured) netted a late equaliser to grab Micky Mellon’s side a vital point.
As good as Hibernian have been in recent weeks, their last couple of performances at home against St Johnstone and against Dundee United yesterday only yielded two points. Jack Ross’ side have been superb on their travels but it is on their home patch where they do need to be more clinical.
For Dundee United, this will feel like a victory after that late equaliser. Siegrist’s performance in goal for the Terrors provided an excellent platform for the visitors to go on and get a share of the spoils. They still need to get firing at the top end of the pitch as strikers Marc McNulty and Lawrence Shankland drew yet another blank.
It was good to see Nicky Clark back in the squad yesterday though. His goals have been vital in Dundee United’s season so far and will continue to be so during a busy period for the Tannadice side.
HISTORY MAKING CELTIC JOLLY ON THE SPOT IN ENTERTAINING FINAL
I think I’ve just about got my breath back after that!
What an astonishing Scottish Cup final that was between Celtic and Hearts. It may have taken six months more than normal to see it and we may not have had any fans in attendance but that was an incredible spectacle.
Of course, it could have been much more comfortable for Celtic. After an early wonder goal by Ryan Christie and a majestic ‘Panenka’ penalty from Odsonne Edouard, it looked like it was going to be a stroll in the park for the Champions.
However, a rejuvenated and revitalised Hearts got back into the game with Liam Boyce and Stephen Kingsley netting two goals to level things up and take the match to extra time.
Just when you thought the drama ended there, there was time for a crescendo of noise and emotion. Leigh Griffiths, summoned from the bench, stabbed Celtic back in front before Josh Ginnelly turned in another equaliser to take a quite sensational and breathless game to penalty kicks.
The shoot-out had drama too. Ryan Christie missed first but Hearts could not take advantage. Youngster Conor Hazard on his third senior Celtic appearance saved two penalties from Kingsley and Craig Wighton allowing Kristoffer Ajer to slot away the winning penalty and complete history (pictured).
You have to applaud Celtic and their success. To win 12 consecutive trophies (a quadruple treble) is something we will probably never see again. It is quite remarkable. For Neil Lennon to have won the treble as a player and as a manager is something special too. Credit to him. He’s been under the pump so often in his time as a player and as a manager and there is no doubt fans, media and pundits alike wait to see if he comes unstuck. Today though, he proved yet again he is a winner.
Time will tell whether this is the catalyst for Celtic to go on and overturn the gap to their bitter rivals Rangers but make no mistake about it, they will not be going away quietly. They should also enjoy the success they just created today. The stats are just extraordinary (pictured).
For Hearts, it was so close and yet so far. At half time they looked dead and buried. The Jambos were bereft of ideas and were simply outplayed by their opponents. Credit should therefore also go to Robbie Neilson on energising his side at half time and making them believe they could compete in the game.
I do not think it will be long before Hearts make a return to the Premiership. On the evidence of today’s second half and extra time performance, they would be a match for many of the top flight.
HEDGES AND COSGROVE SEE OFF TOOTHLESS KILLIE
Whisper it quietly, Aberdeen are finding their feet again.
After a couple of disappointing weeks in league and cup, Derek McInnes side are slowly getting back to their best after a convincing 2-0 win at Rugby Park.
It was a workman-like performance performance from the Dons (pictured). Curtis Main and Ryan Hedges’ industry throughout was admirable with the latter scoring the opening goal via a deflection. Substitute Sam Cosgrove passed up a chance to score a second late on before netting a late free kick to secure the three points.
Kilmarnock were pretty poor.
They rarely tested Joe Lewis and never realistically looked like threatening a Dons side who have now not lost in Ayrshire since 2011. They really missed the dynamism of captain Gary Dicker alongside Allan Power (pictured) in the centre of their midfield and were toothless up top as Nicke Kabamba and Eamonn Brophy threats were nullified by a strong three man Dons defence.
It was also Kilmarnock’s fifth red card of what has been a rather ill-disciplined season for Alex Dyer’s side with Brandon Haunstrup seeing red late on for a foul on Cosgrove.
Kilmarnock have now lost four of their last five matches and now sit level on 17 points with St Johnstone and Hamilton at the wrong end of the table.
With a busy festive period, Dyer’s men need to find form and fast.
FESTIVE PERIOD CHAOS AWAITS SCOTTISH CLUBS
This is my last blog of the year and I will be back at the start of the New Year as we look forward to the second half of what has been an incredible campaign so far.
The next three matches up till New Year all pose some interesting stories.
On Wednesday night, Celtic face Ross County at home while Rangers travel to St Johnstone. Aberdeen and Hibernian will want to continue their decent recent form as they face Motherwell and St Mirren respectively.
On Boxing Day, Sky Sports hosts two live games with Rangers facing off against Hibernian at Ibrox before Celtic travel to Hamilton later in the day. Ross County might have a new manager in by then and will face St Mirren at home in a bid to get back on track.
The final round of matches before New Year sees Celtic at home to Dundee United while Rangers will want to erase their League Cup demons as they travel to Paisley to face St Mirren. Elsewhere, Aberdeen are away at high flying Livingston and St Johnstone host a massive game against Hamilton in Perth.
In this chaotic of years and seasons, this is the busiest time of the year…and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my followers and thanks for supporting my blog.
Dr. Grant Campbell